Spectacular Waste: Industrial Ruins and Nostalgic Speculation

Authors: Andrea Marston*, Rutgers University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Cultural Geography, Latin America
Keywords: speculation, resources, mining, ruins, nostalgia, Bolivia
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Drawing on ethnographic and archival fieldwork post-industrial tin mining town in highland Bolivia, this paper explores how people live with and relate to the spectacular landscape of discarded waste rock, rusted machinery, and other decaying infrastructure left behind by 20th century tin mining (approx. 1899-1985). These industrial ruins not only materialize nostalgia for past grandeur, when the town was the nation’s economic centerpiece. They also animate visions of future grandeur, since the mountainous piles of waste rock are said to contain a fortune’s worth of untapped ore. Small scale miners – the de facto caretakers of the ruins – enlist geologists, journalists, and gringas in their efforts to attract the capital necessary to transform waste rock into commodities, but their spectacle attracted political censure rather than financial investment. I demonstrate how the town’s spectacular waste, which contours both the landscape and local memory, is caught between the politics of historical preservation and the politics of economic progress. Never simple “waste,” the spectacular waste of industrial ruination poses a challenge to linear temporalities in both capitalist circuits and nation-building projects.

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